Lean into Savings

Lean practices have been working miracles in manufacturing for decades, driving early adopters, most notably Toyota, to the top of their markets. Given that track record, lean processes are now cropping up in project management across industries. This article examines how using lean principles can drive waste and inefficiencies out of programs and save millions in the process. It discusses the Guide to Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs, which was released in 2012 by PMI, the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which outlined key challenges programs face and offered up approximately 300 best practices in 40 categories that effective teams and organizations use to overcome these issues. It reports on one of the primary challenges faced by project management offices (PMOs)—providing a clear road map that communicates common understanding of the implementation of the lean framework outside of manufacturing. The article then looks at how large-scale engineering programs are among the most difficult and risky undertakings an organization can attempt, noting that the U.S. Department of Defense’s 96 largest engineering programs saw an accumulated cost overrun of nearly US$300 billion and an average schedule overrun of close to two years. It then details how taking a lean approach to program planning, stakeholder management and project implementation can eliminate waste. It examines how respect for people and culture is a critical enabler for many project participants. It notes how a program lean execution leader for Boeing Defense, Space & Security (Long Beach, California, USA) establishes the annual goals and targets and assigns specific lean-driven goals to managers within key areas of the program when he is put in charge of a new large-scale project or program. It also looks at the role of communication as a lean enabler and discusses how a culture of strong communication can also make it easier to suggest waste-reducing changes. The article explains how organizations can be lean and discusses ways to incorporate lean initiatives and practices into a project management process. It examines some of the challenges faced by organizations when going through the implementation process and overviews how the most effective lean programs communicate the principles holistically across multiple teams, projects and departments. Accompanying the article is a case study exploring how an aviation manufacturer applied lean enablers at the outset of the planning process. In addition, a sidebar identifying 10 common challenges or behaviors that drive waste and inefficiencies in engineering programs and reporting 6 key principles of lean that could limit the impact of these challenges accompanies the article.
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